The Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBSCN) begins a fresh 10-race segment of the NASCAR America Fantasy Live game and anyone who was slow to jump on the Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch bandwagon during the last go-around have a new opportunity to ride those ponies until they go lame.
Not so fast. Harvick was one of the top-five points earners only six times in the last 10 races. Busch was among the five best on seven occasions, and knowing when to leave them in the garage was critical because it allowed players to take a dark horse that might have been overlooked.
This week, Busch has only the ninth-best three-year average. Harvick is 17th on the chart – because of an accident in 2015 and an uncharacteristic 20th in 2016. Of course, that doesn’t mean much when they enter this weekend with as much momentum as they have shown.
Success predicts success in a NASCAR race and the top five this week should all be considered as fillers alongside Harvick and Busch in the NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster.
1. Chase Elliott (three-year average: 2.50 in two starts)
This is not the first time this season that Elliott has come to a track with a perfect record. Most experts expect him to win sometime in 2018, but that is not going to happen until Chevrolet finds the magic formula in regard to their aero package.
2. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 3.67)
Hamlin’s top-10 streak actually extends to four seasons. He has not finished worse than sixth since 2014 and given that he is part of the Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut that has dominated with his teammate Kyle Busch, he has a better opportunity to visit Victory Lane than any other winless driver.
3. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 5.00)
Forget about Truex’s average finish of fifth in the last three years and concentrate on his back-to-back wins in 2016 and 2017. He’s also won two of the last three races this season, which means he has more momentum than anyone else in the field.
3. Joey Logano (three-year average: 5.00)
Team Penske has been perfect in regard to top-10 finishes in the last four years. Logano has not yet won – and with Harvick and Busch in the field, he is not likely to on Sunday either – but his second-place finish in 2016 and a fourth in 2014 makes him a solid fantasy pick.
5. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 6.33)
In terms of predictability, it doesn’t get much better than Keselowski’s Chicagoland record of seven straight top 10s. Two of these were wins (2012 and 2014) and all of them were eighth or better. Keselowski is overdue for a win because he has not gone this far into the season without one since 2013.
6. Ryan Blaney (three-year average: 7.50 in two starts)
When a driver debuts at a track with a top-five finish, it generally indicates that he will run well there for the rest of his career. Blaney slipped to 11th last year after finishing fourth in his rookie run in 2016, but he’s in even better equipment this year and should easily land in the single digits again.
7. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 10.00)
By now, the reader has noticed a trend. There aren’t very many true dark horses to be had on 1.5-mile tracks in general and Chicagoland in particular. That works out just fine considering that most of the top-named drivers other than Harvick and Busch have virtually equal odds of winning.
8. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 10.33)
Once the king of the 1.5-mile tracks, Johnson’s fall from grace has been difficult for his fans. It also plays havoc with traditional methods of handicapping races. For now, keep ignoring him from a fantasy NASCAR perspective and use him only if Chevrolet turns their season around in the next 10 races.
9. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 10.67)
Busch’s three-year average is skewed by an uncharacteristic 15th-place finish last year. But, even before then he had not scored a top five in three seasons. That doesn’t really matter this week, however, because he’s won two of the five races on this track type and is not going to slow down.
10. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 11.67)
Busch has only one top-10 finish in the last three years, but a third in 2015 was good enough to offset his 13th in 2016 and a 19th last year. The tiebreaker goes to this season’s record, and with four results of seventh or eighth in five races on 1.5-mile tracks, he demands close attention in practice and qualification.
Pole Winner: Three of the last four Chicagoland races have had qualification canceled because of weather, which doesn’t give players much data to consider. Kyle Busch won last year’s pole, however, and took the top spot at Charlotte and Atlanta earlier this season, so he is the driver mostly like to be fastest in time trials this week.
Segment Winners: Does one really have to ask who the most likely segment winners will be? Flip a coin between Harvick and Busch and hope that Fate is smiling.